Humans are becoming more like the bionic man every day. We are all familiar with sensors. They are a part of our every day, high tech life. There are lights with sensors who turn them on when someone walks in front of them. Sensors that tell you when your gas tank is low, or when your seat belts are not buckled and soon there will be sensors in the human body that give us advance warnings when we are about to have a medical emergency such as elevated pressure in the eye, bladder or brain.
In the eye, for instance, high pressure can cause the fibers that make up the nerves die. This causes a lessening of the field of vision, or in the worse cases, blindness. Glaucoma is actually increased intraocular pressure. Because it is not usually painful, it often goes undiagnosed until it is too late.
Glaucoma patients can also develop cataracts. Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to become opaque. The only cure is to surgically remove the damaged lens and replace it with an artificial one.
Then there follows a life time of medications to keep the pressure within the eye regulated. But the pressure will fluctuate, no matter if the medication is taken religiously and that means that the dosage has to be adjusted frequently, making many visits to the doctor necessary
Now lets fast forward to the future a bit when a sensor that has been developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectric Circuits and Systems IMS in Duisburg will be ready to be used in human beings. Imagine having a sensor in the eye that is smaller than the tip of your finger that can alert you when the pressure starts to rise. It will make the number of visits to the doctor’s office much fewer. The sensor measures only 2.5 X 2.6 millimeters. It is placed in the artificial lens and it does not interfere with the patient’s vision.
This is how it works. The top and bottom of the sensor are electrodes with the top one being flexible, and the bottom one being rigid. When the intraocular pressure increases, it pushes the top one in thereby reducing the distance between the two sensors, which affects the sensor’s ability to store an electric charge. Then the sensor uses an ever so tiny antenna to send the information about the pressure change to a reader that is located in the patients eye glass frames. The patient then can read the data on an external device and determine if the pressure is high enough to warrant a doctor’s visit.
They are right now testing the eye sensor in clinical trials and expect it to be ready for general use in about 2 to 3 years time.
But they are not going to stop here. It can also be implanted in the blood vessels in the upper thigh or upper arm where it can detect a rise in blood pressure in patients suffering from chronic hypertension. Another use would be to measure an increase of intracranial pressure. This is only the beginning of this type of technology, at least in these applications and who knows just how far it will go.
Source: the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectric Circuits and Systems IMS http://www.fraunhofer.de/fhg/